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Touch of evil

An evil horde of warrior fanatics is racing across the inhabited universe, bent on converting every human to their insane religion of blood and honor. Their chief weapon: Merciless tickling.

Well, not really. But that would fit in with the joyful, carefree silliness that pervades “The Chronicles of Riddick.” The army in question calls themselves “the Necromongers” without a hint of irony, or a hint that this makes them sound like Cockney barrow-pushers. “Cor, git yer necros here, guv’nor! Fresh, hot necros, tuppence a dozen!”

Against the evil (if silly) empire stands Riddick (Vin Diesel), a man so evil that he actually kills people who are trying to kill him. If you think that doesn’t sound very evil at all, you might be on to something. Of all the killers in this film (and let’s remember that entire planets get wiped out during the course of it) Riddick is the only one who doesn’t seem to take any pleasure in dealing death, and does so only when it’s absolutely necessary. He may have been slightly more evil in 2000’s “Pitch Black,” but that was an entirely different sort of movie.

Two other characters return from “Pitch Black”: the Imam (Keith David) and Kyra aka Jack (Alexa Davalos). But this film isn’t about them any more than it is about Aereon (Judi Dench), an alien with special powers who tries to combat the Necromongers, or the Necromongers themselves. Nope, this film is about Diesel. And his biceps. And his pectorals. And his deltoids.

Given his growing reputation as a prima donna, Diesel must have been in heaven as he watched the cameras lovingly caress his well-honed muscles as they rippled beneath his smooth, honey-colored skin.

The only serious contender that Riddick (or Diesel) has to deal with is Dame Vaako (Thandie Newton), one of the Necromongers and as devious an intriguer as Lady Macbeth at the top of her game. Newton wears a skin-tight, snakeskin-like dress, and slinks around with a sense of menace that trumps all the rest of her co-religionists. Her husband, Lord Vaako (Karl Urban), is a bit of a dullard, intensely loyal to the cause and plodding in his attempts to keep pace with the conspiracy against the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore.) Feore’s performance is better than workmanlike, but since his character is supposed to be half dead, and only upright due to his fanaticism, he doesn’t really get any good lines.

As this effects-heavy space opera chugs methodically toward its sequel-bait ending, its internal contradictions tend to iron themselves out. While not as tightly plotted, shot or acted as “Pitch Black,” the transfer of the Riddick character from thriller to epic goes better than might have been expected.

“Chronicles” isn’t the breath of fresh air to science fiction film that its predecessor was, but it doesn’t fall flat either. At the very least, it provides plenty of good fodder for the quick witted. As Dame Vaako leads Riddick into the Necromonger mother ship, she sweeps her arm across the frame to reveal a vast black room full of angry martial sculptures and smaller spaceships zipping away on missions of destruction. This is the perfect time to turn to your companion and whisper loudly enough for the people behind you to enjoy your cleverness: “We call this ‘the Ashcroft room.'”

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